Feb 14 2016
2016 has begun its build to the eventual frenzy of excellent new releases, and this week we’re featuring a couple albums that will likely be a part of the wave that makes it to the end of the year Best Of season of lists. Common trait shared by (most of) this week’s recommendations? A lot of returning names familiar to this column (and its siblings from the old eMusic 17 Dots and Wondering Sound columns). Thankfully, the return visits offer up recordings even stronger than their predecessors. That’s not an easy thing to do. This week, however, we have several such instances. As a result, I’ve linked to a bunch of previous album write-ups within the body of these recommendations… which will lead to even more excellent music. Take the time to explore.
*** Album of the Week ***
Patrick Cornelius – While We’re Still Young (Whirlwind Recordings)
I was already a fan of Patrick Cornelius, but this album just blows me away. The music is inspired by the poetry of A.A. Milne, but this is an instance where the music transcends the theme, making it only as relevant as you want it to be. The saxophonist brings in an all-star roster of trumpeter Jason Palmer, saxophonist John Ellis, pianist Gerald Clayton, drummer Kendrick Scott, trombonist Nick Vayenas, bassist Peter Slavov and guitarist Miles Okazaki, and the way this octet shapes the solos as mere extensions of dynamic group play, of something very organic grown from the soil of ensemble communication, is arguably the album’s winning quality. What’s more likely to instantly grab the ear, however, are the lovely textures that emerge, seemingly, without end. I’ll be posting a more extensive write-up of this recording in the very near future, but don’t bother waiting for that… go get this album now. 2016 is still so very young, but this may be the best thing I’ve heard so far.
*** Also Featured This Week ***
Aruan Ortiz Trio – Hidden Voices (Intakt Records)
One of the many things I adore about the music of Thelonious Monk is how easily embraceable his offbeat method becomes. So many times the next steps he took seemed to land in unexpected spots, yet that surprise is immediately followed by the enlightenment of how logical the progression was. I get that same charge of surprise-understanding from the new one by pianist Ortiz. I’m not saying this is Monk-like music… it isn’t. Ortiz has already established his bona fides on the modern scene, and while he’s shown the ability to swing and sing the blues old-school style, he’s just as adventurous hitting some Latin or Afro-Cuban territory as he is a clearly modern, seriously conversant post-bop. The latter form of expression is what Hidden Voices has to offer. Songs scoot along with bop-ish motions then suddenly disperse in seemingly random patterns that can unpredictably coalesce into a focused direction or just keep running off to the horizon, never to meet again that original statement of melody. This music ain’t standard stuff, but that doesn’t stop it from stepping up, beaming a wide smile and shaking your hand.
Malte Schiller & Spielvereinigung Sued – Sagen oder Nicht (Unit Records)
An absolutely thrilling big band recording from Spielvereinigung Sued, with Malte Schiller handling the comps, arrangements and direction, and trombonist Nils Wogram as a featured soloist. I’ve given the rundown on a number of projects that have Schiller’s name attached to them, and each time they find new ways to surprise and delight. This lovely album takes advantage of its numbers by radiating a huge presence, yet deftly shifts gears to display a gentle vulnerability just when the moment is right. No better example of this than the opening two tracks, with “Es Regnet” slowly building intensity from the slightest tension hanging on vocalist Matthias Knoche’s every word, followed by the beaming rays of thick warm sunlight on “Waltz For You.” There’s a couple Radiohead covers and a Kurt Weill comp, but you gotta look to the originals to find the golden moments on this excellent recording.
Matt Parker Trio – Present Time (Self-Produced)
On saxophone, Parker seems to enjoy speeding through a song just to see what happens when he jerks on the steering wheel and makes the tires spin out. Two albums into his recording career, it would appear that his bandmates enjoy the ride, because on his sophomore recording, a trio session this time around, there’s as much wildness as on his fun debut Worlds Put Together. But Parker is more than just careening through space. Opening track “Noah’s Arc” bops right along with the heart of an old-schooler. Three vocal tracks are a nice addition, too, both in support of lyricism and also to shift the pressure on the gas pedal. Parker’s trio consists of other This Is Jazz Today members past, Reggie Quinerly (drums) and Alan Hampton (bass).
Empirical – Connection (Cuneiform)
It’s an odd geometry the Empirical quartet utilizes to shape their music. Lots of sharp angles and quick cuts and twists and turns that keep to a linear motion rather than work the curves. But the dreamy melodicism vibraphonist Lewis Wright and bassist Tom Farmer add to the equation creates a seriously compelling balance to the harder edges of alto saxophonist Nathaniel Facey and drummer Shaney Forbes, and it’s a big reason why this album will appeal to an ear wanting to embrace music as much as one looking for a challenge. Definitely check out their catalog, as they keep creating music that finds a way into this (and my old eMusic Wondering Sound) columns. Good stuff.
Lucian Ban Elevation – Songs From Afar (Sunnyside)
An album thick with lyricism and an effusive storyteller’s heart. It’s the way that the music phases between states of Romanian influence and modern post-bop that’s most intriguing and which leads to all that lyricism. There are times that certain passages threaten to tear the song apart at the seams, but the songs hold, and it’s why the peaceful interludes resonate with such strength. Joining pianist Ban is tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton, bassist John Hebert, drummer Eric McPherson and Mat Maneri on viola and vocalist Gavril Tarmure, who appear on about half the album tracks. Both “guests” make a huge impact on the album, each in their own way. The song “Southern Dawn” is one of the best things I’ve heard all year.
Bob Wijnen – NYC Unforeseen (Self-Produced)
All kinds of friendliness on this straight-ahead bop session from pianist Wijnen, guitarist Peter Bernstein, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Billy Drummond. Up-tempo pieces generate plenty of warmth to accompany their brisk conversations, and when the quartet slows things down, the music radiates the blues. The strength of the album is how so many of the melodies are genuinely inviting. For instance, with a simple turn of phrase, “Baby Steps” slowly draws you in before speedily taking off on a lovely solo. A nice example of how an album doesn’t have to be groundbreaking to grab tight to a listener’s attention and how an old-school sound can speak with a brand new voice in the present day.
Gerard Presencer – Groove Travels (Edition Records)
Kind of a mixed bag on the new one from trumpeter & composer Presencer and the Danish Radio Big Band. By sticking to a contemporary sound, they’re able to sugarcoat the melodies without making them over-sweet and they can shift into tempos that take the song into pop territory without losing the essential jazz big band sound to carry the album to the finish line. In some instances, like a regrettable cover of “Eleanor Rigby,” they let the contemporary pop sound get waaaaaay out of control, but then tracks like “Another Weirdo” and “Instanbul Coffee Cup,” they are able to harness the sound’s innate catchiness while building intensity through tempo and shooting out melodies like lighthouse beams cutting through a foggy, seaside night. Strong moments outnumber the weaker ones, and those that fall in between the extremes all add nicely to the album’s enjoyment.
Malija – The Day I Had Everything (Edition Records)
It’s an uncommon, exciting discovery to happen upon a recording that is able to emit an ambiance that is Sunday morning sublime while moving at a pace built more for downtown rush hour traffic. The trio of pianist Liam Noble, bassist Jasper Høiby and saxophonist Mark Lockheart (who doubles up on bass clarinet for this session) achieve this wonderful synthesis of incongruous elements remarkably well on this solemn, yet active recording, The Day I Had Everything. The compositions place this music two feet in the modern day of the UK jazz scene, but it emits influences from bygone eras traceable to cities on the U.S. mainland, and that sense of present and past joined at the hip alongside the match of solemn and speedy just adds up to a winning album. Worth noting that all three of these artists have received some pretty strong recommendations with other projects on this site (and my Wondering Sound columns). Go explore.
Brian Fielding – An Appropriate Response, Vol.1 (Self-Produced)
Pleasant set from pianist Fielding, drummer Ali Jackson, tenor saxophonist Mike Lee and double bassist Andy McKee. The quartet sticks to a contemporary mainstream sound, but stays close enough to a modern straight-ahead voicing that it should appeal to both sides of that dividing line. Album keeps a pretty steady demeanor throughout, but there’s a few tracks that really grabbed me. Nothing particularly groundbreaking here, but I’ve been enjoying it well enough to give it a quick mention.
Mike Moreno – Lotus (World Culture Music)
Nicely captivating session from the quartet of guitarist Moreno, bassist Doug Weiss, drummer Eric Harland and pianist Aaron Parks (who doubles-up on Rhodes). Moreno always brings a warm sound on electric guitar, and, thankfully, he gives it a hazy presence, which tends to make it far more embraceable than other electric guitarists who go for a sharp, clean (and, to my ears, boring) ring. And when Moreno switches over to acoustic guitar, things really get magical. Rainy day music for when you want something calm yet lively that’ll blend with the tapping of raindrops and crash of thunder outside. Pretty much could listen to the song “Epilogue- The Rise” on repeat all day long.
Have a great time digging through the list!
And remember, it’s simple: You like what you like.